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Academic Success Checklists

Jo Calhoun

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Your student’s academic advisor can recommend habits to cultivate that will lead to academic success. Based on 30 years of working with students and faculty members, I have my own checklist (see below). Here also is my unorthodox but honest parent-to-parent checklist for you.

1. Set your expectations early, and high.

This generation of college students sees their parents as primary sources of support well into their college years. This is a wonderful thing! Your opinions absolutely do matter and you still have significant influence.

Before the start of the fall term, and whenever you have a chance to check in throughout the year, let your students know what you expect of them academically and behaviorally. They should attend every single class (calculate tuition paid per class to make the point). Do you want to see their grades? Make that clear before the term starts if possible. See the Student Academic Checklist for more talking points.

2. Remember that you are not responsible for your students’ academic success.

They are. And the college environment is challenging. High academic and behavioral expectations coupled with newfound independence can create a perfect storm. It takes some students a while to learn to balance their studies and their social lives.

3. Understand that it is not appropriate for parents to contact faculty members.

Your students need to do this themselves in order to learn the adult skill of self-advocacy. Faculty members like seeing and hearing from students outside of class, especially students who are struggling. Urge your students to visit their professors, but don’t call yourself. If they are sick or if there’s a family emergency, call someone on the Student Life staff — a dean, an academic advisor, a residence hall director. They can help.

4. Support your students’ decisions.

To thrive academically, students need to choose coursework in which they can excel. As parents, it’s our job to set aside our agendas for their future and let them discover their own bliss. The choice of a major is theirs alone.

If things aren’t going well, if your students need to drop a course or take time off, help them figure out the process and then support their decision. Parents who would like to talk these things over can call the Academic Advising office.

An Academic Success Checklist for Students That Really Works!


 GO TO CLASS – do not skip even one!

 Sit in the front row and participate.

 Do the homework and the reading.

 Visit faculty members during their office hours.


 Keep a calendar of due dates (including preparatory steps like getting materials, reading assignments, writing drafts) and review it every day.

 Don’t waste the hours between classes — head to the library.

 Set limits on socializing; know when to leave the circle of friends and find a quiet place to study.

 Write a weekly one-page summary of class discussions and readings (these become exam study guides).

 Remember that weekends do not start on Thursday.


 Understand that, unlike high school, faculty members grade based on end product, not effort.

 Join study groups — research shows they’re effective.

 Think through your own responses to readings and class discussions, then speak aloud or write out what you’ve learned to be sure you have it.

 In every class, work hard on your writing. It matters.

 Choose a major you love!

Conversation Starters:

  • Tell me about your favorite professor.
  • What was the best discussion you had in class this week?
  • What’s been the biggest surprise for you academically?
  • Where’s the best place to study on campus?

Be prepared to guide, encourage, challenge — and listen.

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Jo Calhoun worked in Student Affairs for over 30 years at institutions including Grinnell College in Iowa, the State University of New York at Binghamton, and the Morgridge College of Education at the University of Denver. Her specializations include first year programs, academic advising, career services and parent relations.
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